Ambulance service in danger of disbanding

WHITEHALL, Mich. (WOOD) — An ambulance service that covers northern Muskegon County could disband as the result of a dispute that led to the firing of its former director and a criminal investigation.

At a packed public hearing Monday at Whitehall City Hall, residents urged the White Lake Ambulance Authority board not to disband, fearing it could lead to delays in ambulance response times.

A meeting of the board of the White Lake Ambulance Authority. (Dec. 22, 2014)
(The board meeting.)

“Here’s my question to you,” Montague resident Darric Roesler asked the board. “What are the lives of your family members worth? What are the lives of your children, your grandchildren or maybe even yourself, what are they worth? Are they worth waiting for an ambulance to come from Laketon and (U.S.) 31? I don’t think so. That’s not worth my life. That’s not worth the lives of my daughters. If we’ve got to pay extra money, I guess we’ve got pay extra money.”

Fruitland Township Supervisor Sam St. Amour, vice president of the ambulance board, blamed former director Jean Dresen for leaving the service as much as $900,000 in the hole.

He said she hadn’t billed for ambulance runs since October; stopped paying health insurance premiums in May or June, leaving eight full-time employees without coverage; and barely made payroll.

But Dresen blamed St. Amour, whose township sued the ambulance service last year.

“I did nothing wrong,” Dresen told 24 Hour News 8. “There are seven board members, and I talked to each one of them. They knew what was going on; they knew we were having trouble getting money in, but we had one board member from Fruitland Township who made it his quest to close the ambulance garage and for the last two years he’s been nothing but a pain.”

white lake ambulancesThe service, founded in 1968, covers the cities of Whitehall and Montague and Blue Lake, White River, Fruitland, Montague and Whitehall townships.

St. Amour said a forensic audit into the ambulance service finances should be completed early next month. He said Whitehall police and Michigan State Police are investigating possible wrongdoing.

“I’m not a cop, I’m not a prosecutor, I’m not a lawyer,” St. Amour said. “She certainly did some things that were criminal towards the community, towards the authority, towards the employees here.”

“There’s no fraud,” Dresen said. “I didn’t embezzle a dime. I love that place, I still do. I don’t want to see it close.”

She said she didn’t pay health insurance premiums because it would have left her without enough money to cover payroll.

“I had to make that choice, and I think I made the right choice,” she said. “I’m not this big, bad person that everybody’s making me out to be. It’s just not that way.”

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